New budget leaves Christians out in the cold
Minorities lose again in funds allocation
The government’s newest budget has been panned by both the political right and the left, but it is religious minorities that have been most disappointed.
The Christian community is particularly left out, as even the few government benefits are largely designed to benefit Muslims, a major political segment assiduously wooed by the government.
The Union budget presented to parliament on Thursday by finance minister P Chidambaram allocates 415 million rupees (US$7.6 million) to some designated castes and 246 million rupees to the tribals – money that cannot be diverted and must be spent for the designated purpose.
The Ministry of Minority Affairs received a 12 percent increase over the last budget estimates, but that merely compensates for the rate of inflation, and until religious minorities get a special designation, similar to scheduled castes and tribes, there will be little directed funds for their development.
Generally, government data shows large amounts of the allocations for religious minorities in the past have remained unspent.
In the preparation of the 12th Five Year Plan, which becomes operational this year, Christian activists sought specific mechanisms to ensure funds reached needy people and areas in a transparent manner.
There is little indication in the budget of how the government intends to ensure that the moneys are spent on the target communities, especially the Christian community, which has not received its fair share of these funds. The community must be assured that it will get its share of funding, especially in development and education.
The Christian community is the least benefited by the Multi Sector Development Program in selected minority districts, a scheme that benefits only one minority group, the Muslims, who are euphemistically called a “vote bank.' And even this has been reduced sharply from 108 million rupees in the 2012 budget to 88 million rupees in 2013.
If the focus shifts, Christians including fishermen in coastal areas and marginalized farmers, will benefit in states such as Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab.
Possibly the only segment of Mr Chidambaram’s budget that can be welcomed wholeheartedly is the funding of 971 million rupees for women and a child budget of 772 million rupees.
Women belonging to the most vulnerable groups, including single women and widows, will be to some extent helped. It is good that the Ministry of Women and Child Development had been asked to design schemes to tackle gender discrimination, especially in the work place. Our own experience of the situation of women and children in states such as Orissa and Madhya Pradesh show the plight of women and children in all aspects of life.
The government has also allocated 1.6 billion rupees to the Maulana Azad Education Foundation, the main vehicle to implement education schemes and channelized funds to non-government organizations for the minorities, but this alone does not increase direct support to disadvantaged children.
John Dayal is the general secretary of the All India Christian Council and a member of the Indian government’s National Integration Council.
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